Maybe the feral pig problem isn't just redneck reality show fodder. Maybe it's something we should take a little more seriously.
In southern states like Texas, backyard encounters with feral swine have become routine. The pigs — ill-tempered eating machines weighing 200 pounds or more — roam city streets, collide with cars, root up cemeteries and provide plot lines for reality TV shows like “Hog Hunters.”But the pig wars are moving north. In Michigan, New Hampshire, New York, North Dakota, Ohio, Oregon and Pennsylvania — states where not long ago the only pigs were of the “Charlotte’s Web” variety — state officials are scrambling to deal with an invasion of roaming behemoths that rototill fields, dig up lawns, decimate wetlands, kill livestock, spread diseases like pseudo-rabies and, occasionally, attack humans.In 1990, fewer than two million wild pigs inhabited 20 states, according to John J. Mayer, the manager of the environmental science group at the Savannah River National Laboratory in Aiken, S.C., who tracked the state populations. That number has now risen to six million, with sightings in 47 states and established populations in 38 — “a national explosion of pigs,” as Dr. Mayer put it.The swine are thought to have spread largely after escaping from private shooting preserves and during illegal transport by hunters across state lines. Experts on invasive species estimate that they are responsible for more than $1.5 billion in annual agricultural damage alone, amounting in 2007 to $300 per pig. The Agriculture Department is so concerned that it has requested an additional $20 million in 2014 for its Wildlife Services program to address the issue.There is wide agreement that the pigs are undesirable — like the Asian carp that is threatening to invade the Great Lakes, but far bigger, meaner and mounted on four legs. But efforts to eradicate or at least contain them have been hampered by the lack of a national policy to deal with invasive species as a whole, the slowness of states to recognize the problem and the bickering between agencies about who is responsible for dealing with them.“As a nation, we have not thought through this invasive species problem, and we just have disaster after disaster after disaster,” said Patrick Rusz, the director of wildlife services at the Michigan Wildlife Conservancy. Dr. Rusz, who travels around the state educating farmers about the menace posed by the wild pigs and encouraging them to set traps on their land, is so avid a hog-hater that in the early stages of Michigan’s invasion, he went to bars to eavesdrop on hunters who might have spotted the porcine invaders. [More]
What woke me up was mentioning Michigan - not some southern swamp. If they are breeding up there, it wouldn't take much for Illinois to enjoy this pest.
The wild pigs’ destructive feeding behavior poses a particular threat to sensitive wildlife species and their habitats. According to studies by researchers at Texas A&M University, wetlands and riparian areas suffer the most damage from wild pigs. In some areas, nearly 50 percent of the habitat is significantly degraded by the hogs’ rooting and wallowing. Additionally, these wet areas also are experiencing increased bacterial contamination in the form of E. coli and fecal coliform from the ever-present pigs.I suppose this is one of those problems too outlandish to consider soberly until your poodle gets eaten by one. But it seems to me climate change will favor their spread. Or maybe this species doesn't need any help.
“Hogs are deadly to anything that nests on the ground,” stated West. “One of the best examples is the depredation of sea turtle eggs on Ossabaw Island.” Before the Georgia Department of Natural Resources (GDNR) began an intensive wild pig removal program on Ossabaw, a barrier island south of Savannah, sea turtle nests on the islands’ sandy beaches suffered greater than 30 percent mortality. Today, as a result of the GDNR removing nearly 3,000 hogs from the island annually, those nests experience less than 5 percent mortality.
Interestingly, researchers also documented a significant increase in the body weight of Ossabaw’s white-tailed deer following wild pig reduction efforts. This fact, along with other research conducted in southeastern hardwood forests, demonstrates that wild pigs present a formidable source of competition for dozens of native wildlife and plant species. Largely due to the pigs’ habit of bulldozing seedlings and rooting for mast crops, such as acorns, these forested areas are experiencing dramatic change. Hardwood regeneration has nearly halted and many wildlife species are outcompeted for critical resources.
Unfortunately, the wild pig’s impact on native mammals is not restricted to increased competition or habitat destruction. Hogs harbor numerous diseases as well as internal and external parasites that are transmissible to wildlife, livestock and even humans. Many of these diseases, such as brucellosis, tuberculosis and the pseudorabies virus have been the target of national disease-eradication programs for livestock. As wild pig numbers continue to increase and spread to new areas, biologists are concerned that their efforts to eradicate or reduce the prevalence of these diseases in wild and domestic animals will be in vain. In addition, researchers at the USDA National Wildlife Disease Center note the possibly insurmountable challenge of controlling an “accidental or intentional outbreak of a foreign animal disease, such as foot and mouth, rinderpest, African swine fever or classical swine fever” if those diseases were ever to find their way into the wild pig population. [More]